The 10 biggest controversies in video games

IN the grand scheme of things, video games are still a relatively new form of media, but they haven’t been without their controversies.

They’ve firmly established themselves as an essential part of popular culture today, but there have been plenty of naysayers over the years, and many who still blame video games for all the evils of the world.

The GTA series is no stranger to controversy.


The GTA series is no stranger to controversy.Credit: Rockstar

Such a view is ridiculous at this point, but there have still been times when certain video games have deserved public outrage.

Be it shady dealings, publishers crossing the line, or unethical marketing, there is no shortage of controversies in gaming history.

We’ve picked out ten of the biggest in gaming history, and will explain why they happened, and what consequences they brought about.

Atari sweat over Pong

We’re not going to sit here and describe Pong. For a short period in history, it was ‘the video game’. However, it wasn’t the first home video game ever released, as some may lead you to believe.

The truth is that Pong was more or less an exact copy of a game called Table Tennis for the Magnavox Odyssey. In 1974 Magnavox sued Atari for $1.5 million and forced Atari to pay a license fee to keep Pong on the market.

As it goes, history would eventually prove Atari the true winner, as the company grew huge while Magnavox faded into obscurity.

Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot boxes

By 2017, gamers had been pushing up against the increasingly predatory monetization methods of triple-A games for a while, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The game aggressively shoved loot boxes in the player’s faces and locked beloved Star Wars characters behind either a paywall or 40+ hours of grinding.

Fans expressed their outrage online, and the response from the EA Community team infamously became the single most downvoted comment in Reddit history and caused EA to temporarily disable in-game purchases completely.

hot coffee

Hidden away in the files for GTA: San Andreas were deleted scenes that allowed you have interactive sex, fully animated in all its blocky PS2-era glory.

This wasn’t an issue on its own – they were deleted scenes, after all – but some bright spark modded them back into the PC version, and then the mainstream media found out.

As you may expect, many people failed to realize that this content wasn’t in the standard version of the game, and the ESRB increased the game’s rating to Adults Only, meaning many stores wouldn’t stock it.

In response, Rockstar republished the game, scrubbing the Hot Coffee content from the game’s files completely, allowing them to regain their Mature rating.

The disastrous launch of No Man’s Sky

When it comes to building up an overzealous fanbase, nothing could beat No Man’s Sky in 2016.

Anyone saying something negative about the game would be immediately descended on by fans furiously defending something they’d never played. Imagine the outrage when it came out and the consensus was that it was mediocre at best.

At worst it was completely underwhelming and lacked many of the features that director Sean Murray had personally promised for the game.

Many were outraged at the game for under-delivering, while others were inexplicably outraged at all the outraged people. It created a very unpleasant cycle in online communities.

By all accounts, the game has been updated in the years since to be a lot closer to what was originally promised.

GTA 5’s unskippable interactive torture scene

GTA is no stranger to over-the-top displays of violence, but one scene in Grand Theft Auto 5 was a step too far for most people.

This torture scene involved beating a defenseless person with a wrench, electrocuting them, or nearly drowning them, all with very graphic animations.

It made people very uncomfortable, especially as there was no way to skip it or not participate.

Watch Dogs’ trailers oversell the graphics

Watch Dogs was looking to be a landmark title when it was first revealed at E3 2012, especially when its delayed launch coincided with the next-gen Xbox One and PS4.

The gameplay trailers made the game look incredible, but on launch day, people were greatly disappointed. The game still looked good, but nowhere near the quality that was on display in the trailers.

What’s worse is that data miners eventually found the upgraded graphics in the files for the PC version, leading many to accuse Ubisoft of deliberately downgrading the PC version to avoid making the new consoles look bad.

Konami parts ways with Hideo Kojima

Whether you think he’s a genius or a madman, there’s no denying that Hideo Kojima makes headlines.

Kojima had a decades-long partnership with Konami, but it couldn’t last forever, and in 2015 Kojima was cut loose.

Silent Hills teaser PT was removed from the PlayStation Store, the highly anticipated game was cancelled, and Kojima’s name was completely removed from all marketing relating to the Metal Gear Solid series.

Just in case they hadn’t already riled enough people up, Konami barred Kojima from collecting his awards at the 2015 Game Awards, where Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain won best action/adventure and best score/soundtrack.

Cyberpunk 2077 was a mess at launch

Few games have had as much hype behind them as Cyberpunk 2077. People had a lot of faith in CD Projekt Red after The Witcher 3, and it was exciting to see what the studio would do with such a drastically different IP.

The game was subject to multiple delays in the build-up to launch with fans getting increasingly annoyed at having to wait longer and longer, but in December 2020, it finally came out and there were some big issues.

All versions of the games were full of bugs, both hilarious and frustrating. The Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game were especially broken, leading to a huge amount of refund requests. Sony even removed the game from their store until June 2021 because of how many refunds were being requested.

Diablo Immortal’s announcement booed by fans

When Diablo Immortal was announced at BlizzCon 2018 as a mobile-only title, fans were furious. Those in the crowd loudly booed the announcement, and the developers were baffled.

In a rather tone-deaf joke, the game’s lead designer asked the crowd, “Do you guys not have phones?” which only stoked the flames of outrage, as one fan in the crowd asked if the announcement was an out-of-season April Fool’s joke.

Eventually, Blizzard relented and launched the game on PC too but it hasn’t gone down well, and it has the joint-lowest user score on Metacritic as a result.

The birth of the ESRB

Violent games have long been the target of politicians and parent groups alike. In 1993, two games stoked the flames to the point that the US government got involved.

The two games in question are iconic, bloody brawler, Mortal Kombat, and FMV horror game, Night Trap.

By modern standards, it’s hilarious that these games would cause such outrage, but in a congressional hearing, the games industry was told to either create a rating board or have one created for them.

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The solution was the ESRB, which rates games on a scale of E for everyone to AO for adults only.

Many countries would follow suit in the years after with rating systems of their own. For example, Europe established PEGI in 2003 which rates things based on age, and Australia uses the ACB, which is responsible for rating all media released in the country.

Written by Ryan Woodrow on behalf of GLHF.

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